A Ghost in the Machine [by Sharu Delilkan]
True to form Sean Curham‘s work at the New Performance Festival, Ghosting Part 2 – Cabaret, is nothing short of unexpected.
The minute we walked down into the bowels of Aotea Centre we are greeted by Curham’s set, which felt more like we’d walked in on someone in rehearsal. And as people gathered it was evident that there was an air of anticipation, or was it trepidation?
It was a few minutes before Sean said hello and encouraged the audience to move around the set, which helped everyone settle in as there didn’t seem a clear place for the audience to place themselves, bar the few chairs on wheels randomly placed in the space.
The set was partitioned from the rest of the space by a mass of lit pink balloons that spelt the word ‘Show’ and consisted of audio visual equipment generously draped with functional cables. Most of the set which was in and amongst the audience, comprising lights, portable CD players, projectors, tables, a sound mixing desk, laptops, a piano stool, wireless headphones, a clock and a blackboard. Obscure as it sounds it only got more enthralling when the performance commenced.
Curham’s first number ‘Speedy legs, slow arms’ was both intriguing and a little disturbing. And given the amount of movement he was doing I thought it strange that he seemed to be dressed in work attire – a long-sleeved shirt, tie and trousers.
The audience was then invited to choose from a menu of potential performance vignettes written on both sides of a blackboard.
An audience member chooses something called ‘Scarry Monster Kill’. And before he performs this number Sean spots me with my pen and pad and approaches me. “You with the pad and paper, please pick a scene from the blackboard,” he says, bringing me a restaurant-like board as if to show me the specials of the day. I quickly chose the one of the vignettes entitled Boo-Boo (challenging).
Without giving too much away, the entire proceedings involved moving members of the audience around the room each time he and his partners-in-crime decided to use another part of the room for their AV projections and actual performance.
Most of the pieces combined very physical action from Curham with edited music and projected visual imagery.
The most interesting thing was the way in which everyday objects like tables, chairs and stools were used to create the most ridiculous and inconceivable things. To be honest at one stage I thought only someone either with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or under the influence could have thought up these crazy applications for such ordinary inanimate objects.
I could keep going through the smorgasbord of scenes we saw and were able to choose from but I won’t.
The concept of passing the wireless headphones around and sharing among the audience was brilliant. Especially since it meant that while some got to listen to the audio on the headphones, at times others had to imagine what Curham was dancing and moving to.
Having the lights up during most of the show, rather than being able to hide in the dark, was something I found a little disconcerting, to say the least. I realise it was done to challenge us, as audience members, but if I were honest I’d take a darkened room any day where you’re allowed to make anonymous judgement.
In general most of the pieces are based on very active and syncopated movement. And the scene ‘Silent Walking, Slowing Counting and a Galloping Chair’ definitely delivers everything the title promises, which was great but I couldn’t help wondering why? Further themes included commentary, repetition and “nothing”. The cabaret felt as if we were part of a presentation of ideas at the end of a workshop, but the uncompromising and intensity of Curham’s physical performance – often leaving him literally out of breath – showed great dedication and form.
It was also interesting looking up at the ceiling, which gave you an aerial view of the all the proceedings – something that wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t made of reflective glass.
Scanning the audience early on I saw bewilderment, interest, bemusement, amusement and utter confusion. But as the audience became more involved this changed to laughter, possibly acceptance and a feeling that someone was putting himself over the line attempting and to teach us something – if only we could work out what that was?
While writing this, my overall feeling of the performance morphed from “why” to “why not”. It was outrageous, disjointed, ambiguous and unforgettable. To be honest I’m slightly intrigued to know what the performances that weren’t chosen from the blackboard might be like…
Ghosting Part 2 – Cabaret plays as part of the New Performance Festival until 18 February at Lower NZI 3, Aotea Centre. Details see The Edge.